The hurricanes and low-pressure systems of late-September and early-October, which brought pumping swell to beach communities up and down the Atlantic seaboard, were well documented. Yet even as Hurricane Nate emerged from the Southwestern Caribbean and snuck its way through the Yucatan channel, we hadn't heard but faint whispers from those who scored on the Gulf Coast.
But late last week, we received a cryptic email from West Florida photographer Alex Dantin, with the subject line: Sterling Spencer vs. The Cyclops @ Pensacola Pass 10-3-17.
The email contained pictures of an angry, heaving wave, mutating and detonating over a rare shoal off the coast of Florida's panhandle. Perhaps more interestingly, it included the harrowing, yet far-fetched tale of the surfer who conquered it: Pensacola's Sterling Spencer.
Of course, the fingerprints of the Sunshine State's resident comedian-surfer were all over Dantin's tale, from the swell's origins (President Donald Trump maniacally pushing buttons, which sent hurricanes across the Gulf) to a prophecy cribbed from visions of Gerry Lopez, a VHS copy of "The Drifter," and the pages of SURFER Magazine, to the climactic battle between Spencer and the wave that Dantin photographed, appropriately named "The Cyclops."
Though the story's inclusion of a meeting in Al Gore's underground bunker raised red flags for us, the jig was more than up when we read the story's final passage:
"Rumor has it when Sterling died on that final wave, he uttered the words, “Read some books!"
Wait, Sterling Spencer is dead?
Not quite, thankfully. We reached out to Spencer and we are happy to report that he is alive and well. He even agreed to share his version of events with us. And while Sterling and these photos don't necessarily tell conflicting stories, we'll leave it to you to separate truth from fiction.
I've got so, so many questions. But first, congrats on slaying the Cyclops and living to tell the tale. We thought we'd lost you.
I actually just took another bodily form and rose four days later. I took over the body of the assistant principle of Gulf Breeze High School. I have to stay around for all eternity.
What else have you been up to?
Life has been good. I was volunteering at the local high school, feeding vegan food to the children to awaken their minds from the sluggish haze and disease of the pharmaceutical-plagued meat industry. That's when The Cyclops emerged.
Interesting. So how's the surf been there in Pensacola?
Amazing. The Gulf is much better than California. The jet streams have shifted, so basically all the waves from the Pacific Ocean channel through the Yucatan Peninsula and into the Gulf. So, SURFER Magazine, as you probably know, is planning on moving its headquarters here. I'm actually working as a part-time realtor. I've been working closely with [photo editor] Grant Ellis to find a new headquarters and studio for SURFER to work out of.
I hadn't heard we were moving. But I guess with the way the waves have been breaking there, that makes a lot of sense. So this wave, The Cyclops — had you seen it break before?
This part is actually all true: This wave breaks on an outside shoal between the Pensacola Pass. My dad started surfing it in the '60s, back when they discovered it. No one really surfs it because this inside left would be barreling super hard. That one is called The Bay. They called the outside one "Geronimo's," because next to it is a Native American reserve where Geronimo was captured. One guy used to surf it, but all the old guys were saying it hadn't broken since the early '70s. We've had so many hurricanes mess up our sand bars.
So did you have a crew of guys out there that day when you surfed it?
No. I was by myself the majority of the time. I used to surf it in the '90s when it was kind of breaking. It was really small then, but I knew it broke, and that you could go out there and catch one.
This is true, too: it's one of the sharkiest places I know of, anywhere. It's a breeding ground, like [New] Smyrna. So, literally, the whole time I'm out there, I'm like, "Oh, there's a shark. There's a shark. There's a shark." It's no joke. We've seen fifteen-foot Hammerheads out there. The sharks you have to worry about, though, are bull sharks. Spinner Sharks will accidentally bite people.
There were tons of jellyfish, too. I didn't have a leash because I wasn't really expecting to surf a wave like that. I lost my board and the current was ripping so hard. All the jellyfish get stuck in this one spot. I was in pure agony swimming for my board.
Was the wave pretty heavy?
The wave was super heavy. It's not like the Banzai Pipeline, but it was intimidating. For the Gulf, you know, it's not that often that you see a wave pitch like that. There's a lot of water movement and refraction and all this other stuff that makes it pitch. It looks like it’s throwing up on itself.
So, I have to ask, is Al Gore an old friend of yours?
Al Gore is actually my godfather. He knew he needed me to fulfill the SURFER Magazine Bible prophecies, but I didn't know it. I didn't know I was the anointed one. Al Gore, long ago, brought me frankincense and myrrh and gold when I was born.
You still have the Myrrh?
No, I smoked it all.
What equipment did you take out to slay The Cyclops?
I was naked. I had to be completely pure to take on the beast. It needed a pure virgin as a sacrifice. I shaved my whole body and Naired everything.
What's next for you?
Other than my duties as assistant principal at Gulf Breeze High School, I was thinking of taking up body surfing. I'm just living the low-key, low-profile life until I'm called upon again.